This one time, I was accidentally a Franciscan monk for two days...
After graduating high school, my best friend and I flew straight to Europe for a six-month backpacking expedition. We spent our first month in Francis' old stomping grounds in the hill town called Assisi. The purpose of this stay was to study at an Italian language school, which led to a mastery level of vocabulary needed to order an ungodly amount of pizza and gelato.
To my surprise, our classmates were mostly aspiring priests and nuns learning enough lingo to help them study at the Vatican someday. One particular priest-to-be became a good friend of ours and we regularly had him over for tea and scrumpets, talking theology and religion into the wee hours of the night.
Before leaving Assisi, this priest-in-training took me aside and said, "Dane, I don't consider myself a prophet or anything, but I do have something "prophetic" that I feel compelled to share with you."
Naturally, I was intrigued.
"I believe you are supposed to be a youth pastor," he said. "A Catholic youth pastor."
I tucked this strange encounter into the "Unusual, but Intriguing" section of my memory bank, but mostly had my mind preoccupied with the upcoming five months of travel through Europe. We parted ways and I haven't spoken with that priest in nine years.
(Side note: When we first arrived in Assisi we were mistaken for pilgrims intending to stay at a monastery within the walled city. We were welcomed in with open arms and dined with a Franciscan brotherhood, but the language barrier prevented us from really getting to know one another. It was after two nights of staying with them that we all realized that we were not the brothers they were expecting and we'd been placed in the wrong housing situation by our school. Oops.)
This one time, when I was 15 years old, I nonchalantly walked the Camino de Santiago...
My grandma used to run her own travel agency called Trips 'n Trails. Being her grandson had its traveling perks. For example, she invited me to join a group she was leading on the pilgrimage trail leading to the cathedral of St. James in Northern Spain.
I said yes, of course, and walked about 200 miles of the last bit of the trail. At the time I thought it was a wonderful trip, but didn't pay much attention to the spiritual aspect that so many peregrinos (pilgrims) focus on throughout their journey.
However, the idea of being a pilgrim on this earth and journeying toward a sacred center has been rattling around my brain ever since.
(Side note: After completing hundreds of miles of this holy hike I returned to the normality of my sophomore year of high school. Ironically, I'd been placed in a "hiking" PE class. You'd think I'd have aced it, but I failed instead. Tell me to explore ancient trails through Northern Spain on a historic path walked by thousands of sojourners before me and I'll do it exuberantly. Tell me to do laps around a track and some surrounding neighborhoods for a grade on a piece of paper and I'll ditch class.)
This one time, I accidentally got a Bachelors in Biblical Theology...
I went to a Christian university. They require that all of their students minor in Biblical studies, but I went there to major in Counseling Psychology.
Before my final year, I went to the registrar's office to select my course-load for the upcoming semester. She informed me that I'd already completed enough credits to graduate with a BA in Biblical Theology right then and there.
Apparently, I couldn't get enough of those Old Testament prophets, Koine Greek, and Hebrew studies.
This one time, a drunk hobo in Spain told me that "los ojos son la ventana del alma..."
When I travel, I tend to wander around without any specific destination. This lack of strategy leads to some really unexpected stuff. A few days before my 18th birthday I found myself traveling alone through Spain. I was walking the streets of Madrid late at night because it was warm and I was awake and it was Madrid.
On this walk to nowhere I met a homeless guy named Louis. In sloppy Castellano he told me about himself and I listened. I didn't understand all of what he said, but I tried. At one point in our disjointed discussion he stopped abruptly and stared at me, looking straight into my eyes he said, "Los ojos son la ventana del alma." And I knew exactly what he meant. "The eyes are the window to the soul."
He said that he could tell that I was kind and good.
(Side note: Three years later, I was standing outside of a restaurant in Oxford, England, with my brother and two friends. We were waiting for a taxi to take us back to our hostel for the night when a Middle Eastern man approached us and walked right up to me to say, "Your eyes are pure." Then he walked away. My friends asked if I knew that guy and I said I didn't, but was left with a strange feeling that that moment was somehow significant in some unknowable way.)
This one time, when I was 15 years old, I was a Guatemalan kid's Papa...
The summer before my Junior year of high school, I traveled to Guatemala to live and work in an orphanage outside of Guatemala City.
I met a young boy there named Louis. He was a kid that had lived with his family of indigenous tribespeople who had fled to the hills for a couple generations to escape genocide. All I knew about him personally was that he had blue eyes like mine and was a wild boy who knew how to survive in the jungle by himself. He took me around and showed me what I could eat and how to make weapons out of tree branches and stones. He even led me to a nest of iguana eggs and offered them up to me as a snack.
One day while we were playing soccer, he stopped to give me a hug and then called me Papa.
I can't forget the sound of his voice when he was yelling "no te vayas! (don't go)" as I drove away the day I had to return to the States.
(Side note: I was able to return once more a few months later to see Louis again, but that was in 2002 and he's probably about 19 years old now. I would love to track him down someday.)
This one time, I traveled through Northern Thailand with an Israeli guy...
I jumped in a van in Chiang Mai that would take me up to a mountain village called Pai. When I got in the car, I was disappointed to only hear languages I couldn't speak. I prepared to zone out for a few hours when a guy behind me said in familiar American English, "hey bro, where you from?"
Turns out he was from Pennsylvania, but lived in Tel Aviv. He'd befriended the two Israeli girls in the van and had been speaking with them in Hebrew for much of the trip.
We spent two days exploring Pai together and talked about Jesus, Judaism, Christianity and America, and where we might all end up when we die.
He told me that his Dad was a cantor at a synagogue and so he was very familiar with Judaism, but didn't strictly adhere to it anymore. Our discussions made me want to know more about the Holy Land and this idea of pilgrimage kept creeping back in my mind.
On the morning we were to part ways we had one last meal and discussion together. He said that he'd talked to his dad the night before about the conversations we'd had about heaven and hell and what it means to love God with all your heart, mind, and strength. After relaying to his father my opinions on those matters, he said that his dad had never heard a Christian hold the views that I held.
"Everything happens for a reason," was a phrase that this guy repeated a few times during our time together. I believe that to be true, but I don't yet know the reason.
This one time, I went to a Greek Orthodox monastery for fun...
Two friends I went to high school with converted to Greek Orthodoxy and were heading up to a monastery in Northern California for a weekend retreat. I'd expressed interest in Orthodoxy and so they invited me along.
After standing for five hours, not understanding the liturgy and trying to make sense of it all, I wondered why I was there.
I wasn't regretting it, but I just wanted to understand the greater scheme of all that was working behind the scenes. I often want to know these things.
Now, my mom has recently converted to Orthodoxy and she keeps passing books on for me to read. I'm continually re-centered and encouraged by the pure and true teachings shared by the Saints and Early Church Fathers.
Over the last few years, my spiritual seeking has led me into countless conversations with a gracious priest who has allowed me to ask him questions about the history of the Church, spirituality, mysticism, and Orthodoxy for hours on end.
He has advised me to live as "more of a pilgrim and less like a tourist."
This one time, two strangers told me to be a spiritual guide...
This month, I've had two separate conversations with people concerning life, career, calling, and what to do with the time we've been given.
Without my mentioning pilgrimage or anything about my spiritual past, one person told me that I should consider leading tours around the world to spiritual sites "like a pilgrimage or something."
Another person told me that I should write a book about spiritual journeying.
Now, there have been many more situations that taste of the same spiritual/pilgrimage/soul-searching/guidance/journey flavor, (like the one time an Australian woman gave me $200 dollars after asking me about my journey with Jesus. Or the time I was told to follow God's favor when it came to making big life decisions. Or the time I was asked to headline a youth conference in Kenya to speak about spiritual growth. Or the time I lived in a parsonage house (on two different occasions for a total of four years), but wasn't ever a parson of any kind. Or the time in Kansas City, MO, when it was prophesied over me that I'd be a "deliverer." Or the time I was looking for a place to sleep overnight on the North Island of New Zealand and pulled right into the parking lot of a Biblical training center (naturally, I just knocked on the front door and was invited right in for tea and cookies). Or the time I lived with missionaries in Southern Spain. Or the other time I stayed the night with missionaries in Southern France. Etc.) but what occurred to me today was that I'd never really taken a written inventory of them all like I've just done now.
I was challenged today to consider that nothing in life is accidental or coincidental. I don't know what all of the above means, but I do believe that everything happens for a reason and perhaps reason lags a bit behind the actual happenings. As I patiently wait for answers, more questions come to mind, but I'm taking better note of all these seemingly unrelated and spontaneous happenings.
Something's up. Something's always up.